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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 53, December 2000 - January 2001

BWC Talks Progress Slowly

In Geneva on December 8, Tibor Toth of Hungary, the Chair of an ad hoc group discussing a verification protocol to the Biological Weapons Convention, told reporters that progress remained slow. Speaking after a three-week session of talks, the fourth to be held in 2000, Toth noted: "We have not made very spectacular progress... At the same time this is a period of quiet investment. My hope is that the investment will provide the yields next year..." The next negotiating session, scheduled for two weeks, is due to begin on February 12.

Note: on January 11, Australian molecular biologist Annabelle Duncan, a former UNSCOM inspector, told reporters that recent research carried out in part by her employers, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) in Sydney, highlighted both the importance and complexity of the issue of tighter controls under the BWC. The research involved the genetic modification of a virus similar to smallpox, intended for use to control plague spread by rats and mice. According to Duncan: "It's not that you shouldn't do the research, because you're going to cut off a lot of beneficial discoveries... [The objective should be] making sure that it's very, very hard for anybody to abuse the results... At the moment, the Convention says 'don't make biological weapons'. There's no way of policing it, so if you think somebody is cheating you can't do anything about it... I can understand the concern that we are publishing [information on] how-to-make biological weapons... You can keep quiet about what's going on and hope that nobody ever finds out, but once you've made a discovery they tend to come out anyway... You can't go backwards."

Reports: Chairman - little progress in biological arms talks, Reuters, December 8; Call for safeguards after chance killer virus find, Reuters, January 11.

© 2001 The Acronym Institute.